In my mind, pitch count is where it's at tonight. It's obvious that, more than ever, it's on everyone's mind. The broadcasters give updates on it every other inning or so. During in game interviews with the Houston pitching coach, he cites the pitch count, sometimes broken down on an inning-by-inning basis. At some point in the not too distant future, I won't be surprised if they start listing it with all of the other information on the screen. (As an aside, how did we ever watch games without the extra information?)
So, how does that affect tonight's game? Simply put, the Cardinals need to chase Backe out of the game early enough to avoid Brad Lidge, and to a lesser extent, Dan Wheeler. After all, the Cardinals have only been outscored by 4 runs over the last 2 games. Houston's middle relief core could have made up that difference easily if called upon to work.
Brandon Backe now has 11 starts on the season, counting the playoffs. In those games, he's averaged 5.03 innings per start, throwing 83.8 pitches per game. That's one part of the equation. The other part of the equation is the Cardinals offense. Over 8 playoff games, the Cardinals hitters have made the Dodgers and Astros throw an average of 16.8 pitches per inning. With that average, Backe should hit 84 pitches thrown after 5.01 innings pitched. In his last start, he threw 93 pitches. If he were to throw that many tonight, the it would take him 5.6 innings at the Cardinals average pitch per inning rate.
To add more background information, Backe has only pitched 7 innings twice all season, and has only thrown 6 or more innings 4 times all year, which includes his one NLDS start against Atlanta. Pitch count wise, his high on the year is 101, with him exceeding 90 pitches 5 times.
So - what does that mean for tonight? I think it's highly likely that Backe's ceiling for innings pitched tonight is 6. Furthermore, I would be surprised if Wheeler and Lidge could go more than an inning each, with Lidge's effectiveness coming into question after throwing 68 pitches over the last 2 days. The Cardinals should be able to dip into the middle relievers for a minimum of an inning tonight, with 2 or 3 innings not being out of the question. Considering they have a playoff ERA of 11.71, that should bode well for the road team.